My talk on "Forgotten milestones in the history of optics"

Mar 18 2010 Published by under History of science, Optics

I just got finished giving a talk to the graduate students of my department on "Forgotten milestones in the history of optics".  The talk seemed to be very well-received, and I've already had faculty suggesting that I should give it again in the engineering department.

The talk was scheduled at 1 hour, and I prepared 45 slides.  My only miscalculation was that I didn't take into account how long-winded I get when I'm talking about a subject I'm really passionate about -- I ended up speaking for 1h10m!

Here is the presentation:  2010_historyofoptics

Three of the four topics are essentially adapted from history of science posts I've put on this blog before, though the first one -- on Ibn al-Haytham -- is new.

If any departments are interested, I could be coaxed into coming to give a presentation... 🙂

12 responses so far

  • Aydin says:

    Thanks for providing your slides. I am enjoying reading them.

  • Melf_Himself says:

    Very interesting presentation.

    I recall you linking previously to some work (http://www.opticsinfobase.org/ol/abstract.cfm?URI=ol-28-14-1182) showing that full coherence is obtained at particular positions of a Young interference screen even if the light illuminating each pinhole comes from two different sources.

    How does this reconcile with Dirac's statement that "a photon only interferes with itself, not with other photons" statement?

    • That's a very good question, and I don't have an immediate answer -- let me think about it for a while and hopefully get back to you. (I thought I'd comment to let you know I'm thinking about it, and not ignoring you.) 🙂

    • Melf_Himself says:

      No problems, thanks 🙂 I'm not sure if there's a definite answer, so I won't blame you if you wax philosophical on that one...

  • agm says:

    Thanks for the slides. Took me a bit to visualize the rationale and the geometry in Barkla's setup. Then I realized the polarization works the same as Sh and Sv seismic. Much easier to see when you can tie it to something you've been dealing with for work...

    BTW, when's the book out?

    • There's a bit more explanation about the experiment and polarization in my original post, here; since I was speaking to a (presumably) optics-heavy audience, I left that out of the talk. (But I still ran over the allotted time.)

      I'm not entirely sure when the book comes out; the publisher received the draft this week, and presumably they'll take a month or so to go through it and send me proofs to go through, etc. I'm guessing that it may be out in early fall, though that's still just a guess -- I have to ask my editor what she thinks, once she's back from vacation!

      • agm says:

        Yes, I recall that post.

        I've been thinking about this. No conclusions yet, but it's lovely to realize that the momentum transferred into an oscillator via the field and then recoupled out is a general principle, no matter how simple or complex the math.

  • IronMonkey says:

    The statement "How can we make light behave how we want it to?" to describe the modern era of research in optics is pretty bold but quite accurate I believe. Thanks to our predecessors and technological progress, our "control" over light is better than ever.

    Moreover, while the visible, near-infrared, microwave and radio-frequency parts of the spectrum have been studied/used extensively during the last centuries, another hot topic these days it seems is the (re)discovery of other useful spectral bands: terahertz, deep-UV, middle-infrared, etc. Again helped by technological advances in optical sources, devices and detectors.

    The slides on Indian and Arabic influence before the Western renaissance and later, were very interesting (and enlightening ;-))

    • The statement “How can we make light behave how we want it to?” to describe the modern era of research in optics is pretty bold but quite accurate I believe.

      I guess it is a little bold, isn't it? I think the statement is accurate as it stands, but the question is whether the science will live up to the hype building around it. As it stands, we're still not terribly good at making 3-D metamaterials, or photonic crystals, for that matter, and most of the proposed applications depend on being able to reliably tailor 3-D structures. It may turn out that the metamaterial revolution ends up like phase conjugation before it: useful, but not nearly as transformative as originally thought.

      The slides on Indian and Arabic influence before the Western renaissance and later, were very interesting

      Thanks! The pre-Renaissance era is something I'm going to be looking into in much more detail, as I know relatively little about it. Embarrassingly, most of the questions during my talk were about that period!

  • Joe Howard says:

    Nice presentation... a little "light" on the geometrical optics side, but hey, I'm biased! Let me know if you're ever in the DC area, and we'll get you on the local OSA section docket, or even a lunch presentation here at Goddard if you're up to it.

    • Joe: Thanks! No plans to be in the DC area in the near future, but I'll let you know if things change!

      I do need to study more the era between Newton and Young; I'm sure there's lots of interesting research in that era, but haven't come across too much of it.